KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a Big 12 soccer championship match that featured 40 shots, West Virginia’s Ashley Lawrence took the one that counted.
The freshman midfielder, after settling a free kick from Carly Black, sent a high shot past the outstretched hands of Oklahoma State’s Michaela Ongaro, giving top-seeded WVU a 1-0 win Sunday.
The Mountaineers’ (16-3-2, 7-1 Big 12) won for the 12th time in 13 matches and claimed the Big 12’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“For me, it’s always about the journey with a new team and having them experience the championships,” said Big 12 Coach of the Year Nikki Izzo-Brown. “This team has just grinded all year long. They’ve faced such adversity, and for them to pull together and get this one, our first one, makes it more special. It’s just special. Everything about this experience this week was awesome.
While the Mountaineers will be making their 14th straight appearance in the NCAAs—the nation’s 10th-longest active streak—Izzo-Brown lobbied for her team to receive a national seed when the tournament field is unveiled Monday.
“I thought we did enough, win or lose this game, but now I hope this win shows that we deserve a seed,” she said.
Senior goalkeeper Sara Keane was spectacular for the Mountaineers, making a career-high nine saves for her third consecutive shutout, her ninth of the season and 26th of her career.
“I knew this was going to be a big game for us,” said Keane. “I tried to back up my defense as much as possible. Everyone did awesome—they all played great. This was such a great team effort.”
It appeared Oklahoma State’s Ongaro might match Keane, until Lawrence broke the deadlock midway through the second half.
“Coach always talks about crashing the goal any opportunity that we get,” said Lawrence. “We were all crashing, and I kept running through it. I noticed that the ball was there, I put my foot on it and prayed it went in.”
Said Izzo-Brown: “It was definitely a scrappy goal, but when you’re inside the 18, you just have to have a one-touch finish, and that’s what happened.”
Ongaro made four saves for the No. 6-seeded Cowgirls (9-6-6, 2-3-3). OSU earned a 10-5 advantage in corner kicks.
After upsetting the No. 3-seed Texas on Wednesday and the No. 2-seed Texas Tech on Friday, the Cowgirls came out attacking, registering five shots on-goal in the first half.
Keane’s first stop in the eighth minute was special—a moving save on a shot from Madison Mercado from 17 yards out.
The Mountaineers responded with a chance three minutes later. Amanda Hill received a ball from Tessa Broadwater, turned and took a blast in the middle from 16-yards out, but Ongaro was there.
The Cowgirls’ best chance came in the 13th minute. Mercado was awarded a penalty kick after she collided with sophomore defender Leah Emaus at the top of the box. Keane didn’t have to make a play on the attempt, as the shot went wide left.
Mercado later tried from 15 yards out, but Keane dove toward the near post and batted the ball away.
Four Mountaineers were named to the Big 12 All-Tournament Team, led by Offensive MVP Frances Silva and Defensive MVP Kadeisha Buchanan. Keane and Lawrence joined them on the team.
“It’s a great feeling,” Lawrence said. “It’s great stepping up for the team and putting the goal away for us. We won this championship, but our work has just begun.”